Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: October 2007 (Page 1 of 2)

The Christian Vision Project: Powering down

I thought this was a good example of the benefits and dangers of missions and things like micro-lending. Whenever cultural patterns change there are those–with or without reason–who will react negatively. This also illustrates something interesting regarding development. As much as we may decry child-labor in the west, we do so out of our own experiences of the industrial revolution, and without some form of aid from more industrialized nations to allow them to leap-frog certain levels of development, it’s no surrprise that child labor is a problem in other parts of the world. We only have to look at periods of our own history to see why. As one of my college professors put it, he doubted that any of us in the class room–no matter how capitalist–if transported back in time to the height of the industrial revolution, could resist the pull of socialism in the face of such abuse.

Nine years ago, World Vision staff discovered pervasive bonded child labor in the district of Gudiyatham in India: parents indenturing their children to moneylenders, in payment of debts as small as $20. The children rolled cigarettes, tanned hides, or made matches without freedom to go to school—and with little prospect of ever repaying loans made at ruinous interest rates.

Today, according to World Vision’s extensive house-to-house surveys, child labor in the Gudiyatham district has been reduced by more than 80 percent. Children out of school can be counted in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

Jayakumar Christian oversees this and other projects that serve the poor. One would think that all Indians would welcome such efforts. Not quite.

{read it all}

Pederasts and Madrassas

Ever since I heard the stories of American soldiers who fought in the Gulf War about certain interesting sexual practices among Arab men, summed up in the phrase “girls are for babies boys are for fun,” I’ve periodically heard whispers about a cultural inclination to pederasty in that part of the globe–ironic given the hatred our supposedly immoral lifestyle inculcates among Islamic fundamentalists. Well, we all have logs in our eyes about something. And it always warms my heart to be called immoral by a bunch of misogynistic pederasts.

My most recent exposure to this culture was from a new friend, a moderate American Muslim, who lived for several years in Saudi Arabia as a child and experienced the desire of older teenage boys to help him “mature” first hand. Thankfully, he was able to get away.

At any rate, this article is probably the first time I’ve seen this practice referenced in the popular press–this time in regards to Afghanistan. (Hat tip to Kendall).

More worrisome, it was revealed that Tracy, the mystery anthropologist, wears a military uniform and carries a gun during her cultural sensitivity missions. This brought to my increasingly skeptical mind the unfortunate image of an angelic anthropologist perched on the shoulder of a member of an American counterinsurgency unit who is kicking in the door of someone’s home in Iraq, while exclaiming, “Hi, we’re here from the government; we’re here to understand you.”

Nevertheless the military voices on the show had their winning moments, sounding like old-fashioned relativists, whose basic mission in life was to counter ethnocentrism and disarm those possessed by a strident sense of group superiority. Ms. McFate stressed her success at getting American soldiers to stop making moral judgments about a local Afghan cultural practice in which older men go off with younger boys on “love Thursdays” and do some “hanky-panky.” “Stop imposing your values on others,” was the message for the American soldiers. She was way beyond “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I found it heartwarming.

I began to imagine an occupying army of moral relativists, enforcing the peace by drawing a lesson from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans lasted a much longer time than the British Empire in part because they had a brilliant counterinsurgency strategy. They did not try to impose their values on others. Instead, they made room — their famous “millet system” — for cultural pluralism, leaving each ethnic and religious group to control its own territory and at liberty to carry forward its distinctive way of life.

{read it all}


I’ve been hearing an ever-growing buzz about the movie “Bella.” It has won nearly every film festival it’s been in, including the people’s choice award at the Toronto Film Festival, but it is evidently being panned by many critics (I’ve never really paid attention to critics anyway, though I know others who do.) The film has a pro-life message and themes that have made it difficult to find a company willing to market it. As a result, it’s opening is limited. In the Nashville area it is going to be at the Regal in Green Hills. Show times are: 12:00, 2:25, 4:50, 7:20, 10:05.

Here’s the trailer:

And here are some comments about the film on Touchstone’s Mere Comments.

I met one of the producers of this film on Saturday and he spoke of his pro-life motivation behind the film. On Friday, after I gave a talk on “Voting for Pontius Pilate: Washing Our Hands of Abortion,” I was told about a government hearing that had just ended the same day in which several dozen women testified to the harm they suffered due to abortion. Also, I was told, several thousand women have been filing affadavits about the after-effects, the harm they experienced from abortion.

I was told a few weeks ago by a Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois that the pro-life cause was over and that we live in a pro-choice culture, and, not these exact words, get over it. He was just being realistic.

{read it all}

From the dusty historian: Knights Templar Exonerated by Vatican

Templar SealAt least that’s what is being claimed about a book set to be released this week by the Vatican’s secret archives. Processus contra Templarios is based on a text called the Chinon Parchment which, according to the BBC had been incorrectly filed; it contains the record of the investigation into the charges of heresy surrounding the Templars before their dissolution. Check it out:

The Vatican is to publish a book which is expected to shed light on the demise of the Knights Templar, a Christian military order from the Middle Ages.

The book is based on a document known as the Chinon parchment, found in the Vatican Secret Archives six years ago after years of being incorrectly filed.

The document is a record of the heresy hearings of the Templars before Pope Clement V in the 14th Century.

The official who found the paper says it exonerates the knights entirely.

Prof Barbara Frale, who stumbled across the parchment by mistake, says that it lays bare the rituals and ceremonies over which the Templars were accused of heresy.

{read it all}

The Vatican library is closed for renovations at the moment, and I’m not sure how one would go about getting the book, but what a great one to practice one’s rusty Latin skills on! If anybody knows where I can order a copy, let me know.

UPDATE: scratch that, I just found out how many of these are to be printed and what they will cost.  I guess I’ll have to visit it at a library somewhere:

Only 799 copies of the 300-page volume, “Processus Contra Templarios,”—Latin for “Trial against the Templars”—are for sale, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican’s secret archives. Each will cost $8,377, the publisher said Friday.

An 800th copy will go to Pope Benedict XVI, said Barbara Frale, the researcher who found the long-overlooked parchment tucked away in the archives in 2001.

{read the rest}

Archbishop Rowan Williams: Britain's abortion debate lacks a moral dimension

Very interesting to read this in light of the Charles Gore piece I posted earlier. Hat tip to Kendall.

Most of those who voted for the 1967 Abortion Act did so in the clear belief that they were making provision for extreme and tragic situations: conception as a result of rape, foetal or perinatal complications threatening a mother’s life. Forty years on, many of these same people have expressed their dismay at what has happened. As some of the issues are reopened in connection with the proposed legislation on embryo research, it is important to think about where this unease comes from and whether it has any lessons for us now.

Many supporters of the 1967 Act started from a strong sense of taking for granted the wrongness of ending an unborn life. What people might now call their ‘default position’ was still that abortion was a profoundly undesirable thing and that a universal presumption of care for the foetus from the moment of conception was the norm.But the rapidly spiralling statistics – nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales – tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases (and clinical advances have in fact reduced the number of strictly medical dilemmas envisaged in 1967 act’s supporters). When we hear, as in a recent survey reported in the Lancet, that one-third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion, we may well ask what has happened.

Recent discussion on making it simpler for women to administer abortion-inducing drugs at home underlines the growing belief that abortion is essentially a matter of individual decision and not the kind of major moral choice that should involve a sharing of perspective and judgment. And that necessarily means that certain presumptions have changed. Not only has there been an obvious weakening of the feeling that abortion is a last resort; the development of embryo research has brought with it the hint of a more instrumental approach to the human organism in its earliest days.

{Read it all}

The Hand of Welcome: Hope in a Contraceptive Culture

I’m working on a new post to reflect specifically on some of the issues I think our current approach (or lack of approach) to contraception raise, but I thought it would be helpful if I directed attention to this paper which lays out some of my primary thinking on this subject.

open handsThe problem arises when people begin to feel such a sense of security is the natural state of humanity, when in reality the natural state of humanity, and the state in which the majority of humans still live, is one of powerlessness. Rowan Williams rightly points out that it is through the pursuit of unassailable security that horrible injustices are perpetrated; as he states:

“the more we seek—individually, socially, and nationally—to protect ourselves at all costs from intrusion, injury, and loss, the more we tolerate a public rhetoric incapable of affirming our mortal uncertainties, errors, and insecurities, the more we stand under Ezekiel’s judgment for ‘abominable deeds’—the offering of fleshly persons on the altar of stone.”1

The part of our nature that seeks to control events and destroy or submerge any evidence of weakness—to sacrifice on an altar of stone—can be seen as an aspect of the spirit of rebellion and pride. Just as the first instance of this sin was closely linked to shame and fear, so too does fear play an important role in the desire to bury all evidence of weakness. Indeed, such a desire can be seen as a sort of spiritual backlash to the effects of the fall; resentful of the consequences of our sin we have two options: one, reconciliation with God, leads to life. The other, the further election of self, leads ever more down the path of decay and death. This spirit of rebellion takes many forms and the policies that combat or are animated by it cut across the political spectrum and stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the Gospels, the spirit of liberation and life, through which we are truly unable to find a cure for our restless souls and assurance even in our weakness.

The abuse of persons by others because their weakness serves as a reminder of our own powerlessness is seen through all stages and states of life. It begins in our own day with a devaluing of prenatal life and touches multiple aspects of our society. That this devaluing touches so many aspects of our society is unsurprising given that a rejection of children reflects a rejection of the future and hope—a society that rejects or marginalizes children is a society that is existing in a state of spiritual despair. Such practices exhibit tendencies that become more accentuated at other stages of human development.

Sometimes it is hard to welcome children. As Jeremy Taylor observed in the seventeenth century “Poor men are not so fond of children . . .”2 Yet its not so much that children are hard to welcome as it is that we’ve come to the position of conceiving our entire lives without the interruption of children, and have medicated them appropriately. As Amy Laura Hall has commented, many North Americans simply don’t desire the interruptions that children inevitably create. A rather pathetic indication of this is found in her statement that presently “the average father in [her] social class spends twice as much time each evening watching television as listening to his children.”3 Hall has written extensively on issues surrounding the welcome our culture shows—or does not show—children. By highlighting problematic assumptions underlying the pursuit of new medical and reproductive technologies, Hall hopes to demonstrate that the type of welcome we offer to the helpless and dependant infant will condition the welcome we offer to others whose limitations lay claims upon us. Other commentators have observed that children impinge on the vision of what Christian counselor Charles Taylor has called the companionship model of marriage that seems to have become the primary model in our society. As Ragan Sutterfield observes:

Children, undoubtedly, often keep one from doing what one may want to do. With children, travel is limited and more complex. Schedules become more regular and less spontaneous. Time and attention must be concentrated on activities outside of our list of wants and goals. Children interrupt the ideal modern marriage in which both partners want the same things and share the same goals. In short, children inevitably break the modern ideal of shared selfishness.4

In the end, the failure to recognize children as a blessing and receive them as such merely sets the stage for further abuses.

But the importance of the kind of welcome we offer to children does not begin or end with the question of simply welcoming their births. In Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement Rowan Williams builds upon the theme that a disordered sexuality is one that refuses to recognize the dangers inherent in human relationships—relationships which by definition include opening oneself up to rejection and emotional pain—and is to refuse participation in reality and to objectify other people by seeking pleasure without the attendant risk. By extending a similar analysis to issues surrounding children, Williams offers a deep critique of the manner in which our advertising culture targets children in a manner that limits their growth and understanding.5

According to Williams children within western society, being consumers, are economic subjects; by extension they are also sexual subjects. The fluidity of this barrier—if there is one–testifies to the extent sexuality is seen as a sort of currency. According to Williams the effect of the advertising culture is to shape children into pseudo-adults lacking understanding of the consequences of their choices. The rapid social aging engendered by the loss of free space in which to master appropriate choice-making results in developmentally disadvantaged or disabled children; these consequences aren’t limited to children however:

In this context—but also in many that are supposedly more ‘privileged’—the effect of blurring the boundaries of childhood and limiting the choices of adults is a situation in which adults revert to child-like behavior, uncommitted and fantasy-driven, and children and adults can come to see themselves as rivals in a single area of competition. Sexually, socially, economically, the child may seem to be bidding for the same goods, and the difference between a child’s and an adult’s desires is not grasped.6

This situation is perpetuated by the culture of scarcity, in which even the wealthy are conditioned to feel as though they lack something. Because children are seen as competitors for scarce resources we have created a contraceptive culture that cannot conceive of children as an intrinsic blessing. So internalized have our relations become that a child’s worth—indeed anyone’s worth—is simply a function of how much “I” value them—the statement becomes “how wonderful to have a wanted child” rather than “you must be so thankful for your child.”

{Read it all}

  1. Rowan Williams, “Hearts of Flesh,” in A Ray of Darkness, ed. Rowan Williams (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1995), 35-36. []
  2. Taylor, 261 []
  3. Amy Laura Hall, “Naming the Risen Lord: Embodied Discipleship and Masculinity,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 93. []
  4. Ragan Sutterfield, Weddings and Wrong Choices [Internet] (The New Pantagruel, Vol. 1.2 Spring 2004 [cited); available from []
  5. This argument is discernible in much of Williams’ writing on marriage, sexuality and the body, but is perhaps most noticeable in his essay “The Body’s Grace” and in his homily “Unveiled Faces” in A Ray of Darkness. []
  6. Rowan Williams, Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement (New York: T&T Clark, 2000), 28-29. []

Bishop Charles Gore: Lambeth on Contraceptives

I found the following at Project Canterbury and I post it for your consideration:

Lambeth on Contraceptives
By Charles Gore, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.
Bishop of Oxford
London: Mowbray, 1930, 30 pp

§ I
The Resolution 15 of the Lambeth Conference
SOME years ago I published a pamphlet on The Prevention of Conception, which has been quite recently reprinted. I had hoped that I might now remain silent on the subject, but the recent action of the Lambeth Conference, giving a restricted sanction to the use of preventives of conception, constrains me to publish a reasoned protest against what seems to me to be a disastrous abandonment of the position that the Conference of 1920 took up. I quote the Resolution (68) of 1920:

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

Here we have a refusal to go into detail about abnormal ‘hard cases,’ but a quite general condemnation of contraceptive methods. The recent Conference, on the contrary, has given a restricted approval of them. To be quite fair we will analyse the Resolutions 13—18. Resolutions 13 and 14 are on the lines of the latter part of the pronouncement of the earlier Conference, emphasizing the dignity and glory of parenthood and the necessity of self-control within marriage. Resolution 16 expresses abhorrence of the crime of abortion. Resolution 17 repudiates the idea that unsatisfactory economic and social conditions can be met by the control of conception. Resolution 18 condemns fornication accompanied by the use of some contraceptive as no less sinful than without such accompaniment. It also demands legislation forbidding the exposure for sale and advertisement of contraceptives. But Resolution 15 (carried, it is noted, by a majority of 193 votes over 67, which would seem to imply that there must have been some forty bishops who did not vote), which contemplates cases where ‘there is a clearly felt obligation to limit or avoid parenthood,’ while giving the preference to the self-discipline and self-control which makes abstinence from intercourse possible, and recording the ‘strong condemnation’ by the Conference ‘of the use of methods of conception-control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience,’ yet admits the legitimacy of these methods ‘where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.’

This is no doubt a restricted admission, but it is a definite withdrawal of the quite general condemnation expressed in the Resolution of 1920, and I fear it will be the only part of the contribution of the recent Conference to the question of sexual relations which will be seriously effective. The classes of persons aimed at in Resolutions 13, 14, 16, and 18 are not those which pay any attention to what the Church says. The same must be said of the worldly-minded who use contraceptives from motives of selfishness, luxury, and convenience: such people know quite well that they are disregarding ‘the parsons,’ and have no intention of listening to them. But there is a large class which cannot brace itself to ignore the voice of the Church. They have been anxiously waiting to hear what the bishops will say. No doubt they feel that their cases are ‘hard cases.’ In different ways we are all apt to feel that. They think that they have a morally sound reason for avoiding parenthood, and that they cannot practise abstinence. Now they learn that a representative assembly of the chief authorities of the Anglican Communion has ‘removed the taboo’ on contraceptive methods, and no doubt their scruples will in many cases be silenced and the easier course taken.

I observe that the Bishop of London says that he agrees with the conclusion of another bishop who, ‘reading the resolutions as a whole, thinks the balance appears quite definitely on the side of strictness.’ I fear that this is practically the exact opposite of the truth. I think the clause which sanctions certain methods as a ‘regrettable necessity’ in certain cases (to use the bishop’s expression) is the only clause which is likely to have any considerable effect: and I cannot doubt that that effect will be disastrous.

{read it all}

Time 1925: Anglican Differences

I came across this article in Time Magazine from 1925 while looking for some information on the Anglican approval of contraception and the Anglo-Catholic criticisms of it (criticisms I think have been largely validated since then). I thought it was particularly interesting:

Ernest W. Barries, the philosopher-scientist whose elevation to the bishopric of Birmingham inspired voluminous discussion last fall (TIME, Sept. 29), set himself again where the roads of opinion cross. He was preaching at Brighton, a watering place once more fashionable than it now is. Said he: “Human welfare is now menaced by human fecundity. The change from large to small families is not to be impatiently condemned. Victories in medicine and hygiene may be disastrous for public welfare unless the desire for many children, which is natural and until recently laudable, is held in check.” The same evening, the local vicar, Canon F. C. N. Hicks, mounted the pulpit, declared he could not let the Bishop’s words go unchallenged: “I disagree profoundly with that teaching; I myself abide by the teaching of the Church.” The incident had no immediate consequences for the reason that Brighton is not in the diocese of Birmingham; but on the following day appeared a report of an unofficial “National Council of Public Morals,” strongly condemning birth control. It was signed by the Bishop of Winchester and two other clergymen. It advocated five-chil- dren families and concluded: “We deplore as strongly as possible the tendency—in some cases a mere fashion, in others a necessity more imaginary than real, in others again a, selfishness more or less plausibly concealed— to look on one or two or even three children as sufficient fulfillment of a function whose far-reaching potency and value it is impossible to exaggerate.” Discussion of this subject is likely to remain in England; but it is thought unlikely that the Church of England will permit it to become an ecclesiastical issue. Birth control is anathema to all Catholics, and any discussion of it would seriously aggravate the Anglo-Catholic problem with which the Church of England is now confronted. Both Bishop Barnes and Dean Inge, sponsors of birth control, are more interested in confounding the aims of Anglo-Catholics than in spreading the extra-ecclesiastical doctrines of Malthus.

{see it on Time’s site}

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